Archive

March 13th, 2016

The dark side of 'friends' at the Supreme Court

    Filing a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court sounds like an act of spontaneous intellectual generosity meant to help the justices see all sides of a case. Or maybe an exercise in lobbying by interest groups.

    Actually, it's neither. A new article by two law professors shows that an organized business they dub the "amicus machine" generates hundreds of amicus curiae briefs, planned and coordinated by the specialized guild of lawyers who argue before the court.

    Surprisingly, the authors think the machine is a good thing. They say it weakens the excessive influence of the solicitor general, helps the court's law clerks find good cases and helps the justices announce broad rules of law.

    I don't agree that these benefits - if they're benefits at all -- outweigh the costs. The amicus machine is part of a system that pushes the justices to the sidelines and lets law clerks, past and present, take over the court's jurisprudence.

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Requiem for a Wrecking Ball

    Aubrey McClendon’s 2013 Chevy Tahoe ignited after he slammed into an Oklahoma City overpass at high speed. Flames charred the brazen oil and gas executive’s body so badly that medical experts relied on dental records to verify that he’d died.

    One day before McClendon swerved to hit a concrete wall, a grand jury charged him with conspiring to rig bids for fracking leases. If convicted, the Chesapeake Energy Corp. co-founder could have spent a decade behind bars. It looks like he preferred suicide by SUV.

    “Executives who abuse their positions as leaders of major corporations to organize criminal activity must be held accountable for their actions,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s antitrust division while announcing this unprecedented indictment on March 1.

    McClendon’s comeuppance was overdue.

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Primary frontrunners verge on sealing the nominations

    Bernie Sanders's surprising upset of Hillary Clinton in the Michigan Democratic primary has put her long-anticipated coronation on hold for at least a few more weeks. Meanwhile, Republican Donald Trump, though he won there and in three other states on Tuesday, may have to wait at least another week, depending on the GOP primary outcomes next Tuesday in Ohio and Florida.

    In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich hopes to win big and remain in the race, thereby prolonging the stop-Trump movement that was kicked off last week by 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. And in Florida, the scheme also needs a much less likely comeback by Sen. Marco Rubio.

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Hearing Michigan's angry voices

    Tuesday in Michigan was brought to you by white working-class men and the people from little towns and small cities. The outcome of a primary that shook the certainties in the Democratic presidential race while also ratifying the ongoing power of Donald Trump's coalition of discontent was determined by voters who don't trust trade deals and don't believe in the promises of the new economy.

    Trump and Bernie Sanders are as different as two politicians can be, yet both served as megaphones for a loud cry of protest from the long-suffering and the ignored.

    This year's primaries can be seen as the end of 1980s conservatism in the Republican Party and 1990s moderation in the Democratic Party. The social compact that underwrote each party's consensus was broken by the long-term effects of working-class income decline and the severe dislocations let loose by the financial collapse of 2008. Economic change has affected regions, states and localities very differently. Few states were as traumatized as Michigan.

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March 12th

Debates highlight different standards between Republicans and Democrats

    In the last week, television viewers were treated by the rival political parties to two distinct styles of debate. The Republican candidates engaged in a personal brawl that showed politics at its worst. Three nights later, the Democrats demonstrated how to disagree without bringing disgrace to their own brand.

    On Thursday morning, onetime GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney launched an uncharacteristic attack on frontrunner Donald Trump, urging Republicans to mount a movement to thwart their frontrunner and save their party from defeat in November.

    Romney, accusing Trump of being a con man, fraud and phony, implored Republicans to vote in the remaining primaries for Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to keep Trump short of the 1,237 convention delegates required to clinch the nomination.

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Finding ideas to pick up where Abenomics left off

    If there's one country that needs creative economic policy solutions, it's Japan. With many observers saying Abenomics has stalled after a year of weak economic performance, plenty of people are asking what's next -- or has Japan run out of ideas?

    The backdrop doesn't look great. The country is experiencing an unprecedented decline in population. The national debt is mounting. Wages are falling, consumption is depressed and productivity is still stagnating. China, Japan's biggest trading partners, is slowing.

    Abenomics -- the raft of policies enacted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- has had some good effects. Growth and inflation rose for a couple of years, probably as a result of easy monetary policy, before the China slowdown hit. Unemployment has been virtually eliminated, and women have finally entered the workforce (though they often remain confined to insecure low-level positions). A consumption tax hike, along with zero interest rates, has improved the debt position. And a series of corporate governance reforms promise to make Japan Inc. more profitable.

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‘Every Parent’s Nightmare’

    We as a society derided the Roman Catholic Church as an accessory to child sexual abuse, and we lambasted Penn State for similar offenses.

    Yet we as a society are complicit or passive in a similar way, by allowing a popular website called Backpage.com to be used to arrange child rape. Consider what happened to a girl I’ll call Natalie, who was trafficked into the sex industry in Seattle at age 15.

    “It was every parent’s nightmare,” Natalie’s mother, Nacole, told me. “It can happen to any parent. Fifteen-year-olds don’t make the best choices. I dropped her off at school in the morning, I was expecting to pick her up after track practice in the afternoon, and then I didn’t see her for 108 days.” The girl ran off to a bus station, was found by a pimp, and within days was being sold for sex on Backpage.

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A supremely politicized court

    The decision of the Republican Senate majority to consider no nominee of President Obama to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia is significant, but not for the usual reasons given - that the work of the court will be disrupted or that the senators are showing disrespect for the president by refusing to consider any nominee he might name. All that happens when the court is reduced to an even number of justices (eight in this instance) is that a few key cases are scheduled for reargument in the court's next term, which will begin in October. A few months later, after the new president has taken office, the vacancy will have been filled.

    Rather, the significance of the Senate's action lies in reminding us that the Supreme Court is not an ordinary court but a political court, or more precisely a politicized court, which is to say a court strongly influenced in making its decisions by the political beliefs of the judges.

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Will Latinos wall off Trump?

    How's this for poetic justice? Donald Trump's favorite scapegoats could end up having the satisfaction of blocking him from the White House.

    Latino voters have the potential to form a "big, beautiful wall" between Trump and his goal. If Trump gets the Republican nomination and Hispanics are provoked into voting in numbers that more nearly approach their percentage of the population -- and if, as polls suggest, they vote overwhelmingly against Trump -- it is hard to see how the bombastic billionaire could win.

    Such an outcome would serve Trump right. Unfortunately for the GOP, it would also threaten to make Latinos a reliable and perhaps monolithic voting bloc for the Democratic Party, just as African-Americans have been since the 1960s. If this were to happen, simple arithmetic would make it increasingly difficult for Republicans to win the White House.

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Trump's treatment of the news media and those who disagree with him is getting worse

    Politico's Ben Schreckinger posted a piece Monday night headlined "Trump cracks down on protesters." It reads, in part:

    "Donald Trump's rally here began with the candidate asking all attendees to raise their hands and take an oath to vote for him, while extended barriers cordoned off the press and plainclothes private intelligence officers scoured the crowd for [protesters]. ...

    "On Friday, two members of Trump's private security team wore street clothes to a rally in New Orleans. One of them, Eddie Deck, explained to reporters that his duties were now weighted towards intelligence work researching potential protesters and assisting uniformed security personnel under the direction of Trump's head of security."

    Later in the piece, Schreckinger notes, "At Monday's rally [in North Carolina] and at [a] Friday rally in New Orleans, press pens were constructed with barriers that created long avenues of exit and entry, forcing members of the media to enter and exit away from the floors of the venues."

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